Traditions make up the culture of the river, and one of the most treasured is that of the mentor. While the exact process or definition of a mentorship can be elusive, that time honored tradition of a more experienced crew member helping to guide a less experienced crew member over time lives on today, and is still being passed on to our next generation of river folk!
Growing up in Louisiana, I never imagined that I would work in the Maritime Industry. Although my family has a long history in the Oil and Gas Industry with various members working at refineries, my regulatory and compliance background was what led me to Canal Barge Company, Inc (CBC). My name is Melanie Townsend, and I have been a Barge Maintenance OPS/SIRE Coordinator for nearly five years. I work in the Barge Maintenance Support Department. With countless regulations, customer requirements, and vetting criteria, often companies devote a group of employees to fulfilling the daily requests – our group ensures our company meets all internal and external standards.
Melanie Townsend, Barge Maintenance OPS/SIRE Coordinator, poses on the levy of the Intercoastal Canal just steps from CBC's Belle Chasse office.
At Canal Barge Company, Inc., our department revolves around my mentor, Rachel Denley. Rachel has spent her entire life working for various shipping and transportation companies in the Maritime Industry. She started her maritime career at the age of 18 working at Barber Ship Management, a steamship agency, where she was responsible for documentation of imports/exports. After a three years, she moved to Barwil Agencies in a similar role. In mid-1990’s, Rachel transferred to Intermarine, Inc. where she was only the seventh person hired by the company. She helped to lay the foundation of quality processes assisting the company to grow into a multi-million-dollar enterprise. She became ISO-9000 trained and developed the processes and documentation to make Intermarine ISO-certified allowing the company to secure crucial contracts. She was also part of the initial training and development team for shifting to an Automated Manifest System (AMS) for U.S. Customs that was required after the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks. In the early 2000s, Rachel made the decision to leave Intermarine and to take some time off to focus on her growing family.
Rachel Denley, Melanie's Supervisor, stands proud on the same levy. Denley has a passion for training and developing women in the maritime industry.
After working in the maritime industry for 18 years, Rachel developed relationships with members of CBC’s Deck Barge Department and, in 2004, her experience made her a good candidate for an opening in the Barge Maintenance Department. True to form, she laid the foundation of, and now manages, the quality processes that allows the organization to grow and succeed. The Barge Maintenance Support Group, has gone from one employee (Rachel) to four, with her supervising the team that she built. Rachel is responsible for modernizing the Barge Maintenance department by building our databases and making them accessible in the field. Rachel’s first major project was to transform our barge documentation from paper-only to entirely paperless. These actions were crucial once Canal Barge began to participate in the Oil Company International Marine Forum’s Ship Inspection Report (SIRE) program. Rachel implemented and continues to supervise the program for our tank barge and boat fleets. In her sixteen years at Canal Barge, Rachel has also overseen incredible growth in our barge fleets. For instance, CBC’s tank and hopper barge fleet have nearly doubled! Much of this growth came from planned new construction where Rachel serves as the new construction liaison with various shipyards.
As my mentor, there have been many things I have learned from Rachel: the importance of process, the importance of choosing your words, and the importance of supporting our “internal customers,” whether that be our Barge Maintenance Superintendents or our Commercial Marketing Departments.
Rachel on the CBC 1323 witnessing USCG 10 year inspection a t C&C Marine & Repair, Belle Chasse, LA.
Importance of Processes
Through constant changes in technology (both software systems and devices), government regulations, and customer requirements the Barge Maintenance Support Group is responsible for maintaining compliance for barges. At times, we are tasked with absorbing changes in the barge fleet profile, through acquisitions and charter arrangements. Rachel’s favorite word is “AUDIT!” She reminds us that it is the continual cycle of setting a process in place, then frequently checking to make sure it’s working. As Rachel taught me -- you want to be the one that catches your mistake before someone else does!
Importance of Choosing Your Words
Before I came to Canal Barge, I was quick to respond to an email when I knew the answer, no matter what the answer might be. Rachel has taught me that how you reply is just as important as replying at all. She sums it up herself, “One of the main things I’ve learned over the years is how to communicate news to people that they may not want to hear – for example, telling a customer that a barge isn’t ready for service. I’ve found that being direct, to the point, truthful, and respectful is the best way to get a positive outcome out of a circumstance that could be negative. What I’ve worked the most with Melanie on is building relationships with our customers so that our interactions are win-win – they trust that we’re trustworthy, consistent, responsive, prompt, and go the extra mile.”
Rachel truly is “Humble, Hungry, and Smart”, a philosophy adopted by Canal Barge Company describing the “Ideal Team Player” from the book by Patrick Lencioni.
An important philosophy at CBC is being a team player. Here we see members of the Barge Maintenance Support Group Team figuratively and literally supporting our equipment and each other.
Supporting Internal Customers
Often, we refer to our coworkers as our internal customers. Rachel has also taught me the importance of the “why”-- we want to have the best processes and systems to support the Barge Maintenance Superintendents, who are out in the field and the boots-on-deck maintaining the equipment every day, and the rest of the customer service team who make sure that our customers have barges to move their product. We are an important link for them in getting them what they need and making sure their job goes to plan and they are successful. We support them by maintaining databases and answering requests for vetting barges for new orders. We often joke that she is the wizard behind the curtain, a reference to the Wizard of Oz. It seems to many that Rachel must have a hidden crystal ball and sees all potential outcomes, as she is often asked to prepare for unforeseen issues that may arise. That’s what good processes can do! We are prepared to tackle any request and facilitate a solution with a good strategy.
Canal Barge focuses on building a sustainable culture where people and communication truly make the difference. This empowers employees at all levels to strive for their best and make the company better every day. Rachel feels strongly that CBC’s “family” culture has allowed her to progress her career while also building her own family and balancing the demands of both. Rachel appreciates how Canal Barge has supported her growth and ability to become a good mentor."
We would like to help YOU tell the story of your mentor to our community! Who helped make you, you? When was the first time they trusted you? What piece of advice do you come back to, over and over? Why did their style of leadership stick with you? Sharing the journey of your experiences can encourage others to follow your lead—to step up, become a mentor themselves, or reflect on the guidance they’re receiving right now! To find out more or to submit your personal experience for Mentor Monday, contact Andra at firstname.lastname@example.org